The latest wave of xenophobic violence and attacks in South Africa has resulted in a growing exodus of Nigerians.
Around 600 Nigerians are due to be repatriated to Nigeria in the coming days, Nigeria’s consul general in Johannesburg has confirmed. The first batch of 320 returnees are scheduled to arrive Nigeria tomorrow with additional flights expected to follow immediately. Logistics for the evacuation will be provided by Air Peace, a Nigerian airline which has offered to airlift Nigerians.
Despite high-level discussions between governments of Nigeria and South Africa last week, xenophobia-fueled protests targeting foreign-owned businesses have continued in Johannesburg, suggesting foreigners are still at risk. The police confirmed 12 people have been killed and 639 people had been arrested as of Monday after the latest wave of attacks as dozens of foreign-owned businesses are looted and destroyed.
At a press conference with business leaders on Monday, South Africa’s police minister Bheki Cele tried to deemphasize the role of xenophobia in the attacks saying the police were focused on criminality by all actors regardless of nationality.
At least eight of those killed have been confirmed to be South Africans and four others are believed to be foreign nationals. As of press time no Nigerian had been confirmed among those killed. But with the threat of violence lingering and a widespread belief shared among local WhatsApp users that Nigerians in particular are being targeted it is likely more people could choose to be repatriated.
South Africa has faced widespread criticism for its latest outbreak of xenophobia or “Afrophobia” attacks as official responses included Nigeria boycotting the World Economic Forum Africa hosted in Cape Town last week, while Zambia and Madagascar also cancelled planned soccer games with South Africa’s national team.
But reactions to the current wave of attacks have been exacerbated by misinformation as videos and images unrelated to the recent incidents have gone viral, resulting in reprisals in Nigeria and Zambia with several outlets of South-Africa owned businesses including retailers Shoprite, PicknPay and telecoms operator MTN all being targeted around the country. For its part, MTN Nigeria notified subscribers last week that its physical outlets were currently “unavailable.” South Africa has also temporarily shut down its embassies in Lagos and Abuja amid fears over safety of its diplomatic staff.
MTN chief executive Rob Shuter confirmed at the press conference four Nigerian-owned MTN outlets had been attacked and shut in Nigeria as well as a temporary shut down of the MTN Nigeria head office. He said the “most significant negative impact is around sentiment” as MTN investors around the world called him worried about the images they were seeing on TV. Shuter emphasized that the biggest concern is on how this sentiment has an impact on foreign direct investment.
(Yinka Adegoke reported from Johannesburg)
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